My favourite place: John Man

In the February 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine, John Man selects Xanadu, China as his favourite historical destination. History Extra caught up with him to find out more...

BME8P5 Shandian River, Bashang Grassland, Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, China

Q: When did you last travel to Xanadu and why were you there?


A: I was there last in 2008, researching my book on Marco Polo – Xanadu, as it is in the UK, Marco Polo in the US, where it accompanies the Netflix series on Marco.
Q: Why do you love the location?

A: Yuan Shang Du, as it is in Chinese, is remarkably untouched. Sweeping grasslands, wildflowers, distant hills, low walls, and very few tourists. That’s in summer, and good weather.
Q: What top three sights would you recommend people to visit when there and why?

A: There are no other sights other than Xanadu itself. But it’s big. Go to the base of the central palace, where Kublai Khan received Marco, and range out from there.
Q: During what period of its history would you have most wanted to have visited Xanadu and why?

A: During the summer of 1275 when Marco arrived with his father and uncle. Thereafter, any summer would do, up until Kublai’s death in 1294.
Q: Where else in the world would you like to visit and why?

A: Easter Island. I’m intrigued by the way in which the islanders destroyed their environment, while carving ever bigger statues to preserve themselves. What a lesson for the world.

John Man is a historian and travel writer. He will be leading a tour to Xanadu with Steppes Travel in September 2016.


You can read John’s feature in the February 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine, on sale from 28 January.